Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rosie Can Be More Than A Rivetor

Soon, women in the Marine Corps and Army can attend Infantry School.  This may not sound like a big deal, but it is an important first step to address the institutional discrimination against women that is prevelent in the military.  (Seriously, stick with me.)

Women now comprise 13.4% of the Army, but less than 5% of its generals.  Even looking at the list of women generals in the Army, you'll see a trend: they are relagated to support functions: Information Technology, the Medical Corps, Judge Advocate General Corps (the lawyers), and Corps of Engineers.  General Cornum (Ph.D, MD) was a POW during the first Gulf War and wounded in combat... yet despite a shit-ton of medals for her combat service, combat roles remained closed to women.  Her combat experience was a result of being a flight surgeon in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet it highlights a problem with the organizational structure of the military in light of the changing nature of warfare.  No army will ever again fight the Battle of the Somme.  Front lines will never again be so well-defined, with "safe" areas and danger zones clearly able to be drawn on the map.  If support roles are likely to be performed under fire, then the military must provide the training to allow women nurses, doctors, engineers, and lawyers to defend themselves.  And, if they are able to defend themselves, then why limit their roles?  Why not allow them to move from supply chain management to management of a machine gun on the top of a tank?

While this is the argument that women are capable soldiers, there is a deeper issue at hand.  The Army stacks the deck in favor of those with combat experience over those without.  A basic look at a sample promotion schedule looks innocuous, but the structure of the point system highlights a covert bias against women.  The majority of the points are earned through Medals, Military Training, Civilian Education, and Military Education.  However, the greatest number of points earned in each category are for combat.  If women are prevented from training for combat or infantry roles, they have less potential to earn points in the military training or education categories.  Without training for the expectation of combat, their likelihood to earn medals for valor in combat situtations is diminished, both from the lack of training and the lack of opportunity.  (On a separate note, my father was a JAG officer in Viet Nam, but because he was originally assigned to infantry, he received combat training and did earn medals valor in combat, which pushed him up the ladder faster.  Or, maybe it helped him to survive the war.  Either way, I fail to see how additional education & training could ever be a bad thing when it may save lives.)

So, while I'm sure I'm going to have to suffer through a slew of pundits talking about how Americans will not like seeing wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters coming back from war in body bags.  It makes it sound like we're okay with husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons dying.  What opening the Infantry Schools to women does is level the playing field so that individual women can pursue this career path if they so choose it, rather than letting the rules of the institution dictate this for them.  If the military is supposed to be a meritocracy based on individual achievement, then it needs to remove the entrenched barriers that lead to discrimination.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Criminals have rights too

Last week, the Indianapolis Star reported on flaws on the state's registered sex offender database.  The Marion County Sheriff took steps to ensure the accuracy of the registry, and the Indianapolis Star wrote a piece on Sunday to congratulate themselves on forcing action to be taken and being awesome in general.  These are my least favorite articles, which is why I found myself reading it (after catching up on the Komen controversy... Hoosier-centric this week, I see).  Yet, this isn't really the point of the article.  Now, the Indianapolis Star is upset about the way in which the registry was updated.  Those who were convicted of sex crimes before the registry was created were simply removed.  Why were they there in the first place?
We have a long-standing tradition in the United States that laws cannot be applied retroactively.   You cannot be sentenced to death for stealing a pack of gum if this was not a potential sentence at the time in which one stole the gum.  How can one have a layer of punishment added to a crime which was committed before the registry existed?  The answer is a misguided Supreme Court decision in 2003 that declared that registries are regulatory in nature as opposed to punative.  Looking at the way these registries are used, it is hard to make the claim that sex offender registries do not serve to punish sex offenders after they have served their sentences.  This is a clear violation of Article 1 of the Constitution.

But what about the children?

What about them?  The problem with the sex offender registry is that it provides a false sense of security.  The registry only tracks convicted sex offenders, not all sex offenders.  Jerry Sandusky appeared on no sex offender registry when he [allegedly] molested young boys at Penn State.  It deludes parents into believing that if they stay away from certain neighborhoods and keep to others, then their children will be safe and sheltered.  It relieves the responsibility of preparing children to confront Stranger Danger, yet does not keep them from encountering known or unknown sex offenders during their daily lives.  I'm not sure what the point of such a registry is.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day

It's Earth Day!  Two years after the Deep Water Horizon explosion, and we're still cleaning up the Gulf.  Recently, reports of eye-less shrimp are making the rounds of the news, including Fox News, which begs the question about whether we'll ever know the full extent of the Gulf Oil Spill disaster.  Mother Earth is a tough old broad, but even she cannot quickly adapt to every crisis.

On a related front, positive steps still happened on the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The newly proposed route will bypass the Sand Hill region and cross the Ogallala Aquifer in an area where the water table is further from the surface.  If you believe Freedom Works, the Keystone XL Pipeline is needed to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.  This claim denies two things.  First, that getting the oil to the Gulf of Mexico does not mean that it will be available for domestic consumption.  Refineries in Texas and Louisiana are already running at capacity.   There is so little give in this system that if one refinery is shut down for maintenance, the price of gasoline spikes.  The supply-demand issue at hand is not about the supply of crude oil, but the supply of the finished product gasoline, which is determined by refinery capacity.  The other issue is that Canada is a sovereign nation, and oil that comes from its tar sands is still foreign oil.  Maybe we should have fought the War of 1812 with more gusto, but not conquering Canada in 1814 means that it is a foreign country.

We're still stuck with a number of issues.  We remain reliant on gasoline to power our transportation system.  We're looking at pumping a viscous sludge through a pipeline, not flowing crude, to refineries that cannot process the sludge, but are next to ports that can export this overseas.  And, we're not looking at alternatives - building refineries closer to the source that can process the tar sands into less corrosive forms before moving them, or building pipelines to Canadian ports on the Great Lakes, which would protect American habitats and force Canada to deal with the externalities created by their own extraction industry.

Happy Earth Day.  We're making a mess of her.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


When I moved into my first apartment, my primary thoughts on location for the at apartment revolved around how close it was located to the bars in Champaign.  Fortunately, the bars in Champaign are also close to the campus of the University of Illinois, but I would be lying if that and the cost of rent were not the paramount concerns with finding an apartment.

Life was simple then.

Currently, as I am beginning an apartment search for a town in which I have never lived before, my tastes are more refined.  It must be cat-friendly, near the farmers market, close to bus lines, have an area for outdoor grilling and container gardening, be in a quiet neighborhood with easy access to a grocery store, and within walking distance to good restaurants.  It's nice to know that maybe I am becoming more mature with age.